Analysis of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens, one of the greatest novelists in the English
language, was born in 1812 into a middle-class family of precarious
economic status. His father was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office at the
time of Dickens's birth; by the time Charles was ten, however, his
father was in debtor's prison, a victim of bad luck, mismanagement,
In order to help support the family during this time of crisis, young
Dickens went to work in the packing department of a factory that
manufactured blacking--a compound of charcoal, soot, sugar, oil, and
fat used to polish boots. This was a period of dirty and draining
labor which one critic has described as an experience of "heartrending
monotony and ignominy." Throughout his life Dickens would remember
the harshness of the working conditions imposed on himself and the
other boys in that blacking factory, and would direct much of his
energy as a writer and moralist toward the reform of such oppressive
conditions. He would also always resent the humiliation and pain
caused by his father's imprisonment, despising both the folly of his
parent and the cruelty of the legal system that punished it so
Thus, Dickens's outlook on life was shaped by an intimate awareness of
poverty, filth, social humiliation, legal oppression, adult
irresponsibility, and industrial squalor. It was also shaped by a
powerful sympathy for the victims of these forces.
Following the dire experiences of his childhood, Dickens moved on to
more rewarding forms of employment, becoming a clerk in a law office,
a newspaper reporter, and a recorder of Parliamentary debates.
Eventually he began to publish sketches and stories, achieving his
first great success as a novelist in 1837 with the publication of The
Pickwick Papers, a collection of humorous stories and character
studies. Over the next thirty years he created a vast outpouring of
fiction, including Oliver Twist (1838), Nicholas Nickleby (1839),
David Copperfield (1849), Bleak House (1853), A Tale of Two Cities
(1859), and Great Expectations (1861).
A Christmas Carol was published relatively early in his career,
appearing in 1843 when Dickens was 31. The tale is one of a series of
short stories on a subject that had long preoccupied its author: the
importance of celebrating Christmas. One of Dickens's earliest
published works was a defense of this holiday against its enemies,
both religious (the Puritans), and irreligious (the Utilitarians).
The former objected to the pagan unseemliness of feasting and
frolicking in celebration of the birth of Christ. The latter objected
to the waste of time and money involved in having fun at all.
Dickens saw in Christmas a moral opportunity, a moment in time
occurring each year when the grinding pursuit of wealth and the
ruthless competition to succeed might be suspended in favor of
kindness and generosity, especially toward...